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Could be time to switch your travel rewards card

Listen up if you've decided to take a permanent vacation from your current travel rewards credit card.

Never has there been a better time to jump to a different card. Bank of Montreal and Bank of N.S. are offering a whack of reward points to attract customers to new card offerings, while CIBC RBC and TD Bank have countered with offers of their own for existing cards. Amer. Express is in the mix, too, with a new travel rewards credit card.

A rough calculation suggests some of these promotions could be worth about $100 to $350 in real-world terms. As enticements to sign up for cards go, it's hard to do better than that.

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One of the best deals right now is the new ScotiaGold Passport Visa. Customers get 30,000 bonus points, which play out as 20,000 for signing up and another 10,000 at your one-year renewal. Scotiabank says you can reduce the cost of travel of any type by $50 with 5,000 points, which means that 30,000 points produce a savings of $300.

Scotia's never been a major power in travel reward cards, but ScotiaGold Passport Visa is worth a look. The annual fee, at $110, is $10 cheaper than most competitors (you pay $99 the first year), and the benefits include collision-damage insurance for car rentals and travel emergency medical insurance. If you pay for travel with the card, you get a 5-per-cent cash rebate.

BMO's new card is the World Elite MasterCard, which ups the premium travel card annual fee ante to $150 annually from a more typical $120. World Elite is one of those travel reward cards where your points can be used for a variety of rewards - flights, spa retreats, contributions to registered retirement accounts or charitable donations. Travel's generally the best bet for wringing value from reward points, so let's focus on that.

The introductory deal for World Elite is 15,000 bonus points. BMO says 5,000 World Elite points equals $95 in reward dollars for travel, so value the bonus points at $285, which can be used for most any kind of travel.

One of the most flexible travel reward cards is TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite, now available with a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points. TD's website says 20,000 points equals $100 off the price of travel that you can book on your card, through any channel you like, using your TD credit card.

A new card that works on the principle of building points toward a specific rewards program is the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card. Unlike some of Amex's other cards, it's not a charge card that requires you to pay in full each month. The bonus for signing up is 10,000 points, which Amex says is enough to pay for up to three free nights at Starwood hotels under the Sheraton, Westin, Four Points and other brands.

Amex says Starwood points can in some cases be transferred to airline frequent flier programs on a 1-to-1 basis. Various types of insurance coverage are provided, but not travel medical.

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CIBC's two big elite travel cards, Aerogold Visa Infinite and Aventura Visa Infinite, are available with 15,000 bonus points for signing up. That's enough to get you a short flight using Aeroplan "classic rewards." If no classic seats are available, and Aeroplan fliers know that's by no means unimaginable, then you'd potentially need many thousands more points.

RBC Visa Infinite Avion is also offering 15,000 points, which you can use for a reward flight on any airline at any time with a cost of up to $350 per ticket. The flexibility in booking flights with this card is tempered by the fact that there's a maximum ticket price. Also, you need more points to qualify for flights in some cases than you do with Aeroplan-linked cards.

Tradeoffs such as this are unavoidable with premium travel reward cards, so choose what works for you and then make sure you get a whack of free points to sign up.

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Comparing Credit Cards

     

The market for elite travel reward credit cards has never been more competitive, which

 

means that card companies are offering lots of bonus points to new customers. Here's

 

a roundup:

      
   

Annual

Bonus Points

Approximate

  

Card

  

Fee ($)

on Sign-Up

Value of Bonus ($)

  
        

Amex Starwood Preferred Guest

$120

10,000

Up to three night's stay in Starwood hotels

BMO World Elite MasterCard

$150

15,000

$285 worth of travel rewards

 

CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite

$120

15,000

short flight - no price limit

 

CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite

$120

15,000

short flight - no price limit

 

RBC Visa Infinite Avion

$120

15,000

short flight valued at up to $350

ScotiaGold Passport Visa

$110*

30,000

$300 worth of travel rewards

 

TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite

$120

20,000

$100 worth of travel rewards

 
        

*$99 in the first year

      
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About the Author
Personal Finance Columnist

Rob Carrick has been writing about personal finance, business and economics for close to 20 years. He joined The Globe and Mail in late 1996 as an investment reporter and has been personal finance columnist since November 1998.Rob's personal finance columns appear in The Globe on Tuesday and Thursday, and his Portfolio Strategy column for investors appears on Saturday. More

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